Jumping the Magna Carta Gun
This last Saturday, June 15, featured a number of news stories about how that was the anniversary of the Magna Carta, the “Great Charter” imposed on “Bad” King John in 1215.
The only problem is that the Magna Carta of June, 1215 was a dead letter. John repudiated the charter, and that repudiation was affirmed by Pope Innocent III.
John's after-the-fact rejection of Magna Carta precipitated the First Barons War, a contest in which a group of disaffected nobles actually aligned themselves with the King of France. Had history turned out only slightly differently, the Angevin house of England could have been replaced by the French royal house, thereby uniting England and France under a single crown. That, of course, was the ultimate aim of the English in the Hundred Years War in the 14th and 15th centuries, but that is a different story. King John would die in October, 1216, the Crown being inherited by his nine year old son Henry III. As part of the effort to bring the First Barons War to a conclusion, William Marshal, the prototypical knight of the period and the Regent of Henry III, caused there to be issued a shorter version of Magna Carta. This effort was not entirely successful, but the shorter version was ultimately incorporated into the settlement the brought about the resolution of the First Barons War.
Henry III would again issue Magna Carta during his reign as a trade-off for new taxes, and his son Edward I would as well issue Magna Carta in his own name. Subsequent monarchs would do the same through the 14th century.
None of the issuances of Magna Carta had the same theatrical flair as the June 15, 1215 signing at Runnymede. For that reason, it remains the event to which everybody refers.
But it did not bring Magna Carta into law.
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